I move amendment No. 48:
In page 23, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
"(3) The conservation regulations may also include measures which the Minister may introduce to reduce the bycatch of small cetaceans as a result of the fishing for straddling fish stocks or highly migratory fish stocks. These measures could include:
(a) the allocation of on board independent observers of bycatch on sea fishing vessels in order to–
(i) assess levels of cetacean bycatch in Irish fisheries on a statistically meaningful level,
(ii) enable compliance monitoring of regulations to reduce bycatch and also the effectiveness of mitigation measures as part of a regular monitoring scheme to assess levels of cetacean bycatch in Irish Fisheries on a statistically valid level;
(b) the mandatory use of acoustic deterrents (‘pingers') on nets for specified fishing methods;
(c) the mandatory use of dolphin exclusion separator grids with certain trawling nets;
(d) the mandatory use of designated technologies or materials which would improve the sonar reflective qualities of nets;
(e) the introduction of regulations which set dolphin bycatch limits and mortality caps for certain specific fisheries with high bycatch rates based on scientific advice and agreed observer protocols with set reductions in fishing effort being introduced once agreed bycatch limits had been reached;
(f) as required by the European Union Habitats Directive, the Minister may designate suitable areas as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) for the harbour porpoise and the bottlenose dolphin. The Minister may introduce fishing restrictions including–
(i) bycatch reduction measures specified above,
(ii) measures to reduce fishing impacts on important prey species for harbour porpoise and/or bottlenose dolphin within or bordering the SAC,
(iii) measures to reduce disturbance impacts by fisheries,
(iv) measures to reduce impact of fisheries on habitats within SACs to reduce bycatch,
(g) the Minister may establish an accreditation scheme for those fisheries or fishing vessels adopting or providing assistance in researching cetacean-friendly methods of fishing.”.
This is the appropriate legislation in which to include the measures I propose by way of this amendment. The Schedule lists the highly migratory fish stocks that I am concerned are suffering at present or which are being lost unnecessarily because of our fishing activities. The main purpose of the amendment is to reduce the level of bycatch of small dolphins and cetaceans and to put in place measures whereby we can monitor this level statistically and with accuracy.
The first part of the amendment is probably the most important and seeks the allocation of independent, on-board observers who can monitor bycatch levels so we can be statistically certain of them. There are many different estimates. In certain cases, up to 30 dolphins have been caught in one trawl involving Irish boats. We know that many of the gill netting methods we use are trap ping a large number of dolphins in Irish waters. The belief among the environmental community, based on the statistics we have to hand, is that bycatch is reducing the population of dolphins and small cetaceans.
People will be aware of the high profile of certain dolphins, such as Fungie or the Fanore dolphin, but they may not be aware that thousands of dolphins are being killed every year in Irish waters due to fishing activities. This is also the case in other waters, such as those along the French and other coasts, where we are engaged in pair trawling and other trawling methods, which have a serious effect in terms of the level of bycatch. This is a serious issue. We have declared our own whale and dolphin sanctuaries, yet we are allowing the mammal species which share our waters to be killed.
The main content of the amendment is similar to that in recent reports on how the UK hopes to develop its policy. We also have had some help from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and other international organisations. We are suggesting what will probably come into effect throughout Europe in the coming years. We know the European Commission is keen to tackle this issue. It has stated that we should now be introducing independent monitoring systems on boats. Therefore, I am not proposing something which is radically ahead of European policy or which is radically different to what other countries are considering. If we do not introduce the proposed measures in this Bill, we will have to wait some years for the slow legislative process to put them into place.
Now is the time to introduce the changes. The conservation section is looking at the same sort of measures as I am speaking about. The Minister of State may state the same effect can be achieved by regulation but it is important that we be seen to take the issue seriously and put it into legislation when we have the chance to do so, and not just do so when we are compelled by some order from the European Union.
Some technologies are more effective than others. The issues of whether pingers or certain grids are successful is debatable and requires scientific analysis. We are not saying that they have to be introduced immediately but they might be of some benefit. I promote the use of certain reflective nets, which will be effective in reducing bycatch. The use of such technologies costs money and, in certain cases, reduces the level of fishing and leads to more expensive equipment. In the longer term, it leads to a reduction in bycatch and allows us sell our fishing products abroad and say we are doing the right thing and achieving our objectives in terms of sustainability. The customers will recognise that we will get a premium price. It will be better for the Irish fishing industry in the longer term even if there are costs and impositions involved in the shorter term.
I hope the Minister of State will take this issue seriously and accept the amendment in the spirit that it has been tabled. This Bill is the appropri ate legislation in which the Government should state that it treats the issue of bycatch of small dolphins seriously. The public wants it to be taken seriously, as does the European Commission.